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Balkan Report: December 8, 2000

8 December 2000, Volume 4, Number 86

Srebrenica, Five Years On. More than five years ago, Bosnian Serb forces overran the UN-declared safe area in Srebrenica in an effort to establish an ethnically pure Serbian corridor in eastern Bosnia along the border with Yugoslavia. The Serbs rounded up the town's residents, sent the women and children by bus and truck to Tuzla, and then proceeded to massacre at least 7,000 Muslim men. In the first of two reports from Srebrenica, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that Muslim families have begun to return to Srebrenica from exile in the hope of rebuilding their lives. This is Part I. Part II will appear in our next issue on 12 December.

There are no road signs pointing the way to Srebrenica. A good map and a sense of direction should get the visitor through the market town of Bratunac and onto the road up through Potocari, where most of the mass killings occurred in July 1995. The mining and spa town of Srebrenica lies beyond, nestled at the end of a steep and narrow valley.

The material destruction in this Bosnian Serb-administered corner of eastern Bosnia is as bad as anywhere else in the war-damaged land. The landscape is pockmarked with houses without roofs, or even walls. In some places, nothing more than the foundations are left. Burned-out vehicles and other remains of the war still lie piled up by the roadside.

But it is the human losses that make Srebrenica different from every other community in Bosnia. Some 7,000 men from this town and surrounding communities have been missing and presumed dead since General Ratko Mladic's Bosnian Serb forces swept down from the mountains and divided the men from the women and children. The men have not been seen alive since.

The town itself had a pre-war population of 7,000 -- mainly Muslims and Serbs, but also Croats, Montenegrins and Roma -- out of a total of 37,000 in the entire surrounding municipality. During the war, Srebrenica's population swelled to about 45,000, as both residents and displaced Muslims from elsewhere in eastern Bosnia crowded into the UN-declared safe area.

Srebrenica's misfortune was its strategic importance to both the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims. It is close both to the Drina River border with Serbia just over the hills to the east and to other largely Muslim towns in the area, including Zvornik, Bratunac, Zepa, Gorazde, Foca, and Visegrad.

In the outside world, the name Srebrenica has become synonymous with mass murder. But what happened here five-and-a-half years ago is rarely mentioned by the town's residents themselves -- in public, at least. In the words of one former resident who makes occasional visits: "Everyone here claims to have been absent when the killings happened and professes ignorance about the events and no one wants to talk about this matter."

But at a recent meeting designed to open a dialogue with exiled Srebrenica schoolchildren on a visit to their hometown, a Muslim member of the municipal council, Nesib Mandic, noted that 6,320 Srebrenica children have only one parent and 220 are orphans.

Srebrenica auto mechanic Mirsad Djozic, a 42-year-old Muslim, survived the entire war in the besieged town, living in constant hunger. When Srebrenica fell, Djozic succeeded in hiking over the mountains all the way to Tuzla. He says he hid in the woods for several weeks before making the 15-day hike, mostly at night, to freedom. He lived in exile in Vogosca near Sarajevo, but five months ago he returned to Srebrenica to rebuild his house, which he says the Serbs burned to the ground. "There is still no justice, but otherwise things are quite good here. There are no provocations. The police behave correctly to me. The authorities are really acting correctly. We haven't had any more problems so far."

Djozic says he does not intend to bring his family back until war-damaged school and health facilities are reconstructed. He says he has applied for assistance to rebuild his house but so far has received nothing.

The OSCE representative in Srebrenica, Gerard Keown, says about 100 gutted houses have been prepared for reconstruction. This year, 10 Muslim families have returned to Srebrenica and, with about 20 Muslim-owned homes reconstructed so far with international assistance, authorities expect another 10 families to be coming home soon.

Fata Husejnagic returned five months ago, together with her daughter, Sanela -- a university student -- and her 90-year-old mother, Mejra. Fata, who used to work at the local spa [Banja Guber], says Srebrenica was one of the most beautiful towns in Bosnia before the fighting erupted in early 1992. She fled with Sanela to Tuzla in April of that year, leaving behind her mother and two of her brothers.

The Serbs expelled Fata's mother after they overran the town three years later. But her two brothers, one of them a professor of biology and chemistry, were never heard from again and are presumed to be among the more than 7,000 Srebrenica men murdered by the Serbs. Fata says: "I've taken my fate into my own hands. I have returned to my centuries-old hearth. This is the home of my father and mother, and I will remain here. I'm here with my mother and daughter. But my brothers stayed behind in 1995 in [nearby] Potocari, and I don't know what happened to them."

Fata says she was not afraid to return because she still has her family's property -- now a shell-damaged house and an overgrown garden. A displaced Serb, Sanja -- together with her parents, husband, and baby son -- were living in the Husejnagic house when Fata returned. Sanja asked if they could stay, but Fata said 'no' and they moved elsewhere.

At first, Fata found communication with almost all the Serbs in Srebrenica difficult. Old friends turned their heads away, but Fata persisted in greeting them when she saw them and, after four days, they finally began returning her greetings. Neighbors she no longer even recognized came by with coffee and offers of sympathy and help. She said: "I'm really sorry for the people here in Srebrenica. I feel for them. My wish is, to the extent I can, to help my people who were forced from their homes. Believe me, they suffered over the past few years. I want to help them find peace as I have, thanks to good people, to find peace in Srebrenica. We cannot go on living apart as nations separated from each other. Everyone suffered. Believe me, we have to be together."

Fata says the fighting left no psyche un-scarred. As she puts it: "Everyone suffered psychologically from what happened, and we have to forgive. We have to recognize that this was war, not a party, and the war brought nothing good to anyone. We have to forgive but it is impossible to forget. I cannot forget that I had two brothers and a normal family."

Finding the way out of Srebrenica can be even harder than finding the way in. An attempt to take a short cut over the hills to Sarajevo recently led visiting reporters on a 90-kilometer detour, much of it on the unpaved mountain road that Mladic and his Bosnian Serb troops used in 1995 to storm Srebrenica.

The road passes by isolated and deserted burned-out homesteads, eventually giving way to inhabited Serb hamlets overlooking the Drina River valley. Ironically, while Bosnian Serb forces demolished all but one of the more than 200 mosques on Bosnian Serb-held territory, just cross the Drina in Serbia, the mosques and minarets of Muslim communities have survived the war intact, plainly visible from Bosnia. (Jolyon Naegele)

Croatia And Its Useful 'Agents.' Nowadays an average daily newspaper contains more information than a human being in the 17th century consumed in a lifetime. Every day more than 20 million words are published in technical publications alone. To read this material, a person would need almost two months. While reading, this same person would at the same time lose five and a half years-worth of information input.

This describes the vicious circle of today's information problem. To catch up with current technological developments, Croatia has to find its path through this information jungle. Because of the war, the economic crisis, and the Tudjman-era international isolation, the country has lost more than a decade. But the gap began to open even before 1991. Already in the mid-1980s, with the rise of Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, processes began in much of the former Yugoslavia that led to the exclusion of the successor states from the globalization processes in the 1990s.

Croatia has now begun to emerge from its isolation and make a decisive step toward technological progress. During former President Franjo Tudjman's reign, information technology was completely neglected. In 10 years, not a single strategy paper in the IT-area was published. In July of this year, however, President Stipe Mesic's working group for the so-called "informatization of Croatia" presented a strategy paper called "e-Croatia."

The paper points out the importance of catching up in the field of computer science and the internet economy. According to this publication, there is no alternative to the implementation of the new technologies in the administration, the economic sector, the health system, tourism, and so on. This is the prerequisite for full cooperation with Europe and the world on equal terms.

The strategy paper presents the first necessary steps for the country's IT-revolution. They include the modernization of the education system, stopping the brain drain of thousands of programmers, building an IT-infrastructure, and attracting foreign investment.

What are the IT-areas Croatia needs to focus on, or, in other words: which technologies and what software will dominate the IT-sector in the next couple of years? One example for future industries are so-called software agents. They are intelligent software programs that help close the end user's information gap by searching, collecting, and filtering material from the internet. Agents are able to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. They work autonomously without the user's direct intervention and are able to communicate with other virtual agents.

Another ability of the agents is their power to adapt to the end user's way of working with the internet. Personalization is the key for future software (see "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," 6 November 2000). Currently, billions of these digital servants are on their way through the internet looking for relevant information to present to end users. Their number is growing daily. In the future, information transactions between different software search systems will represent the biggest part of the global economy.

This is the vision of the Institute for Advanced Commerce at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center ( If Croatia wants to be part of the global economy, Zagreb's computer scientists will have to engage in the engineering of self-learning software and in building up the infrastructure for this software. Information and knowledge are going to be the most important goods in the future.

Intelligent software agents are used -- for example -- as email-administrators, search-agents in the web, interface-agents that help users to learn new software programs, news-agents, shopping-and-financial-agents, and as agents in logistics and many other fields of the economy (see "Netinvestor," October 2000). Business-to-business and business-to-consumer transactions will be influenced by intelligent software systems.

Intelligent software already represents a new step in the evolution of the internet. For Croatia, it is important to keep pace. Search-engines have long been able to look for content on the basis of keywords. Intelligent software is now able to do research on a context-sensitive level. Software-agents recognize the semantics of information and are able to learn and to read. The "talking web," as the next level of internet-evolution, will be much more effective with intelligent software. Voice portals and bots in the internet are the first evidence for this.

Without Western know-how and financial help, access to the IT-world and e-business is impossible. Croatia's IT strategy paper implies that there are already some ideas to attract the global players of the computer industry, but there is no special chapter for a start-up offensive. These small companies will increasingly follow the model of the biotechnology companies, in which innovation emerges from collaborative networks. Start-up companies could generate new ideas and services that Croatia could export. They will have, however, to stay in close contact with scientific institutes and universities.

The McKinsey consulting company calls this potential factor for regional success in the new economy "closeness to idea-pipelines" (see "brand eins," November 2000). But even in the start-up sector, foreign investment is crucial. The example of Armenia shows that the low cost of skilled labor is the primary factor in attracting foreign money. Many U.S. companies have invested in the computer industry of that country, where, however, there were already computer-savvy specialists in Soviet times (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2000).

The Croatian legislature must take steps to make the country's wages and taxes more attractive to foreign investors. Compared to (relatively) geographically distant Armenia, Croatia is in a much better position. Being a neighbor to Italy and Hungary, being close to Germany, and having access to the Adriatic makes Croatia a potentially interesting location for subsidiaries of foreign companies.

After all, investment has a political dimension, too. Many in Croatia have become concerned lately about being neglected if international financial aid increasingly goes to Serbia. But in October, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told President Mesic that international efforts to help Belgrade will not be at the expense of Croatia. Romano Prodi, who chairs the European Commission, made a similar promise to Mesic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2000). The future will show if these were only diplomatic statements or real promises.

Another aspect of the political dimension will be how the long-awaited Croatian constitutional changes affect the management or potential management of economic and information development strategy. So far, this has been largely the preserve of President Mesic. It includes the working groups he created, like the one for the "informatization of Croatia" (see "Globus," 10 November 2000).

Responsibility for this field may well shift to Prime Minister Ivica Racan and the government as part of the overall transition from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. Whatever the case, it is important that research and planning proceed without interruption or disruption and that no more time is lost. (Christian Buric is a freelance writer and a consultant for strategic business communication based in Munich

Quotations Of The Week. "Terrible massacres happened here during the war. An entire family, the Kurspahic family, was locked into a house and then burned alive. Forty of them." -- Amor Masovic, head of the Bosnian Muslim Commission for Missing Persons. He was speaking in Visegrad on 4 December in conjunction with the excavation of a mass grave revealed by the receding waters of the Drina. Up to 1,500 Muslims from Visegrad still remain missing from the early days of the Serbian onslaught in 1992. Quoted by AP.

"There is much to be done in Yugoslavia to return my country to Europe and international organizations." -- President Vojislav Kostunica in Greece on 4 December. Quoted by Reuters.

"Serbia will have the most transparent authorities in its history." -- Opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, outlining the DOS's plans for a new government in the event that it wins the 23 December elections. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 6 December.

"Until now, the Europeans always have had to tug at the Americans' sleeve to get them involved. In the future, the Americans would be free to say 'no.' Second, if we Europeans are stronger, the alliance is stronger. The dialogue, however, will have to be balanced anew. In a crisis, the United States must accept that it [has to] function as a coalition partner, that is, that it share information, decision-making, and risk." -- French General Jean-Pierre Kelche, on the EU's rapid reaction force. Quoted in the "Los Angeles Times" of 6 December (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 October 2000).